Surprise Unique Information Shows Chiropractic May Work On The Brain Too

Welcome to the Chiropractic Forward podcast. I am your host Dr. Jeff Williams and we’re exctied to have you along for the ride. In today’s show, we’re going to talk about how chiropractic may work in the brain itself rather than how it affects just the musculoskeletal system.  We include some intriguing stuff from New Zealand that will make you think, hmmmm, that’s interesting, and we’ll have a little fun along the way

Bring on the bumper music

Again, I’m Dr. Jeff Williams and I’m your host for the Chiropractic Forward podcast This is where we talk about issues related to health, chiropractic, evidence, and research and how those things all fit into a comprehensive approach for treating different conditions. Thank you for taking time out of your day to give us a listen. I know your time is valuable and I will always try hard to fill our time with valuable content.

You have bobbed and weaved your way into episode #9 of the Chiropractic Forward podcast.

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For anyone that has paid any amount of attention to chiropractic, it’s clear that chiropractic treats muscles, bones, and the biomechanics overall. But what some people don’t commonly consider is the fact that chiropractic is effective when treating the nerves that make it all work together.

For instance, what do you think about when you think of chiropractic? More than likely, you think about back pain, neck pain, athletes, and headaches and migraines. It is unlikely that phrases like “cortical drive” or “movement related cortical potential” comes to mind.

According to the author of the paper we’re going to be talking about today, “Scientists use to believe spinal manipulation was a biomechanical treatment option for spinal pain conditions. However, the growing basic science evidence suggests there may be more of a neurophysiological effect following spinal manipulation than previously realized.”

When we begin to talk about the brain, physiology, neurology, and neurological processes, you can get into some highly complicated terms and ideas. I’m going to do everything I can to put it into terms that anyone and everyone can easily process without having a year of neurology classes.

And let’s be crystal clear, I’m not a neurologist or a chiropractic neurology diplomate either with tons of extra education on the brain and nervous system specifically. Many of these terms go above MOST of our heads and MOST of the heads in the medical field as well. That is just a matter of fact. But that doesn’t mean we can’t read, comprehend, and relay the overall pertinent information, which is what we are doing here.

Basically, “What’s the big idea?” That’s what I’m trying to bring to you here without making your eyes glaze over and making you fall into a deep state of hibernation.

Now, with all of that being said, there is some potentially fascinating research coming out of New Zealand we’re going to be talking about here having to do with the dact that chiropractic may work on the brain itself. We are going to talk about two papers that have been done by roughly the same group at the Centre for Chiropractic Research at the New Zealand College of Chiropractic in Auckland New Zealand. Just the name “Auckland” makes me want to go visit. I hear New Zealand is fantastic and the Lord Of The Rings was filmed there so you know it’s stunning. If an epic is filmed in your country, then you know it must be truly epic.

Here is a bit of a disclaimer to start off with. I have seen some dispute from other evidence-based chiropractors online of a different study from Dr. Haavick so I want you to understand that this sort of research cannot be accepted as the gospel. Not just yet anyway. I’d say it’s promising to an extent but there needs to be A LOT more exploration here before we hold it up as the gospel truth. Today’s podcast is more of a, “Hey, look what they’re studying, look what their findings are, and look what the potential for this sort of study could be.” rather than drawing any firm conclusions at this time.

The first study is titled, “Impact of Spinal Manipulation on Cortical Drive to Upper and lower Limb Muscles,” and was published in the journal ‘Brain Sciences’ in December of 2016(1).

Why They Did It

The researcher wanted to find out whether chiropractic care changes motor control. Motor control is basically the messages your brain sends your body in order make it move. Bending your arm, writing on a piece of paper, kicking your leg, or walking are examples of motor control. They assessed whether chiropractic care affected motor control for the arms as well as the legs and tried to find out if the changes may partly happen in the cortical part of the brain, which   is the part that issues motor commands. Although the researchers couldn’t completely rule out the idea that chiropractic adjustments can help motor function at the actual spinal level manipulated, the theory was that some of the changes must happen in the brain itself.  Basically, do chiropractors change how the brain controls muscles(2)? 

How They Did It

  • They conducted two experiments to test their theory. One for the arm and one for the leg.
  • In the first, transcranial magnetic stimulation input-output curves for an upper limb muscle known as the abductor pollicis brevis were recorded.
  • They also recorded F-waves before and after spinal manipulation or the control intervention for the control group on the same subjects on two different days.
  • The researchers did the same in a separate experiment for the lower limb using the tibialis anterior muscle.

What They Found

Before getting into what they found, let’s define the term motor evoked potential.”  According to Medscape, the definition is, “Single- or repetitive-pulse stimulation of the brain causes the spinal cord and peripheral muscles to produce neuroelectrical signals known as motor evoked potentia ls. Clinical uses of motor evoked potential include as a tool for the diagnosis and evaluation of multiple sclerosis and as a prognostic indicator for stroke motor recovery(3).”

With that knowledge the following was noted:

  • Spinal manipulation caused an increase in maximum motor evoked potential in both muscles tested.

Wrap It Up

In a quote from the research abstract, the authors conclude, “Spinal manipulation may therefore be indicated for the patients who have lost tonus of their muscle and or are recovering from muscle degrading dysfunctions such as stroke or orthopaedic operations. These results may also be of interest to sports performers. We suggest these findings should be followed up in the relevant populations.”

In another quote from the lead author, she said, “This research has big implications,says an enthusiastic Heidi Haavik. “It is possible that patients who have lost muscle tonus and/or are recovering from muscle degrading dysfunctions such as stroke or orthopaedic operations could also benefit from chiropractic care. These findings are also very relevant to sports performers (although this too must also be followed up with more research), because it indicates that chiropractic care may help their brains to more efficiently produce greater outputs. So all in all a very exciting study!”

Guess what? They took their own advice in their conclusion and followed up this paper with another similar paper focused more specifically on athletic performance. Here’s the last paper we will discuss called, “The Effects of a Single Session of Spinal Manipulation on Strength and Cortical Drive in Athletes” published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in January of 2018. Brand new information(5).

Why The Did It

Of course, they did it because they suggested the need for the paper in the conclusion of the previous study but more specifically, they did it because they wanted to test if a single chiropractic adjustment could change things in the muscles of the lower leg for an elite Taekwondo athlete.

How They Did It

  • The muscle measured was the soleus muscle, which lies just under what is commonly known as the calf muscle or the gastrocnemius.
  • Soleus evoked V-waves, H-reflex and maximum voluntary contraction of the plantar flexors were recorded from 11 elite Taekwondo athletes
  • A randomized controlled crossover design was utilized.
  • Treatments used consisted of either spinal manipulation in the treatment group or passive movement control in the control group.
  • Outcome measurements were noted prior to treatment, immediately after treatment, 30 minutes after treatment, and an hour after treatment.

What They Found

  • Spinal manipulation was responsible for increasing each factor measured when compared to the control group.
  • The differences were considered significant through each time interval.

Wrap It Up

The authors are quoted in the conclusion of the paper as saying, “A single session of spinal manipulation increased muscle strength and corticospinal excitability to ankle plantar flexor muscles in elite Taekwondo athletes. The increased maximum voluntary contraction force lasted for 30 minutes and the corticospinal excitability increase persisted for at least 60 minutes.“

As I said in the beginning, I feel that this sort of research is really just beginning and consider it in its infancy but I also think that the results are enough to demand more exploration into this area of how chiropractic can affect neurology.

There is actually a court case in Texas this very minute. The appeals argument starts on February 28th down in Austin. The Texas Medical Association is attacking Texas Chiropractors’ rights to treat the “neuromusculoskeletal” system. They argue that chiropractors do not (and cannot) treat anything further than the “musculoskeletal”system. Certainly, NOT the “neuromusculoskeletal” system.

Regardless of the opinions held by those in the leadership of the Texas Medical Association and their legal team, both of these papers (and many other by the way), in my opinion, render their arguments ignorant, nit-picky, archaic, and obsolete. It’s not a question of what research is out there. It’s a question of if they can understand it or will let their pride go. My guess is, “No.” They have to prevent Chiropractic from moving into their territory at any and all costs. It is NOT about patient safety. It never has been and it never will be. It’s purely based on power and the threat of losing it.

What’s your opinion. We would love to hear it.

Research and clinical experience shows that, in about 80%-90% of headaches, neck, and back pain, compared to the traditional medical model, patients get good or excellent results with Chiropractic. It’s safe, more cost-effective, decreases chances of surgery, and reduces chances of becoming disabled. We do this conservatively and non-surgically and do it with minimal time requirements and hassle on the part of the patient. And, if the patient develops a “preventative” mindset going forward, we can likely keep it that way while raising the general, overall level of health! And, of course now, we see that chiropractic may work on the brain too!

Please feel free to send us an email at dr dot williams at and let us know what you think or what suggestions you may have for us for future episodes. If you love what you hear, be sure to check out As this podcast builds, so will the website as we add more content, educational products, and a little further down the road, webinars, seminars, and speaking dates as they get added.

We cannot wait to connect again with you next week. From Creek Stone here in Amarillo, TX, home of the Chiropractic Forward Podcast flight deck, this is Dr. Jeff Williams saying upward, onward, and forward.


  1. Haavik H, Niazi IK, Jochumsen M, Sherwin D, Flavel S, Türker KS. Impact of Spinal Manipulation on Cortical Drive to Upper and Lower Limb Muscles. Brain Sci. 2016 Dec 23;7(1).




5) Christiansen L, et. al. (2018). The Effects of a Single Session of Spinal Manipulation on Strength and Cortical Drive in Athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology. . 10.1007/s00421-018-3799-x/fulltext.html.

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